Ale fresco: England’s pubs gear up for outdoor reopening on 12 April


Jackie Fairburn, the licensee of The Hare & Hounds pub in West Ardsley near Wakefield, is more excited about reopening on Monday when lockdown restrictions are eased than when she was handed the keys to the pub five years ago.

“We are all systems go,” Fairburn says. “I just can’t wait to open, it’s been so long. This relaunch is like starting a new business all over again, but actually this is a much bigger deal – it has to work.”

Fairburn has gone “all out” for the reopening. She has used scaffolding planks to build a replica of the pub’s bar in the garden, complete with bar stools, and moved all the tables and chairs from inside outdoors.

The redesigned outdoor areas of The Hare & Hounds pub in West Ardsley, near Wakefield.
The redesigned outdoor areas of The Hare & Hounds pub in West Ardsley, near Wakefield. Photograph: Richard Saker/The Observer

“It’ll be the first time they’ve been to the pub since it closed on 4 November, so I thought they’d like to see all its familiar furniture,” she says. “Sitting down at picnic benches is hard for those with mobility issues; having the pub’s chairs makes it easy and comfortable.

“We are building new tables now as we speak, we are going to have 65 to 70 tables outside – it is a massive space. We are going to be a bigger pub in the garden than we were in total before the lockdown.”

The tables are spread out in a socially distanced formation across three marquees, with more scattered across the garden. Fairburn has rigged up four TVs outside, a lot of heaters, and promises surprise entertainment.

“It was a wilderness out there really, we never utilised it,” says Fairburn, who gave up a job as a logistics director for a manufacturing company to take on the pub five years ago. “But now we’ve really gone to town and it will pay dividends, fingers crossed.

“We’ve gone for an après ski-type vibe with throws and hot drinks. I think people will quickly get acclimatised to more outdoor socialising.”

Fairburn has adapted the pub’s menu too. She will be serving pizzas from a wood-fired oven, hot roast beef sandwiches, jacket potatoes and sharing platters while also serving roast dinners on Sundays.

Jackie Fairburn, landlady of The Hare & Hounds pub in West Ardsley
Jackie Fairburn, the landlady of The Hare & Hounds pub in West Ardsley. Photograph: Richard Saker/The Observer

The Hare & Hounds, like thousands of other pubs, was forced to close in early November as a second national lockdown was brought in to reduce the spread of coronavirus. While some in tier 1 and 2 areas were able to reopen in late November as long as customers ordered a “substantial meal” alongside drinks, the Hare & Hounds was prevented from reopening as Yorkshire was a high-risk area. The current national lockdown began on 6 January.

Under the roadmap to a reopening of businesses and society, hospitality venues can begin to serve customers outdoors from Monday 12 April. This time there will be no requirement to order a substantial meal alongside the drinks, and no curfew – although customers must order, eat and drink while seated.

Fairburn and other publicans say the table service requirement means they are having to hire a lot more staff. Normally she employs one member of staff in the daytime and another at night. On Monday there will be eight in the day and another eight in the evening to help serve some of the 38 barrels of beer – or 3,344 pints – freshly delivered on Thursday.

The Prince of Peckham, in south London, is also hiring a lot of new staff to cope with an expected rush on Monday and all of next week. “We’re actually recruiting quite a lot of new staff,” says Rohie Njie, the pub’s events manager. “Normally a lot of our staff are students, but the reopening falls right when there are lots of essays and final exams, so we are having to get in new people.”

Signs at The Hare & Hounds pub in West Ardsley, near Wakefield.
Signs at The Hare & Hounds pub in West Ardsley, near Wakefield. Photograph: Richard Saker/The Observer

The Prince is ready for the rush. The pub has extended its patio area into the pavement of Peckham High St with the permission of the council and erected a temporary roof with scaffolding. “So if it does rain or snow we can have people happily outside,” Njie says. “There’s space for 60, most of it is booked up, but we have kept space for regulars who turn up.”

When Njie opens the gates at 4pm on Monday, one of the first people to walk through is expected to be a local called Lacey. “She made one of the first bookings, and the pub is very important to her, she had her wedding ceremony and reception here just before lockdown.”

Njie is also looking forward to welcoming back Kev, one the pub’s longest-standing regulars, who has stuck with the pub during its transition from traditional boozer to studenty hangout. “He always sits at the same place at the bar, so we’ve made sure we will have space for him outside. We’re really excited to welcome him back for the first time since January, we’ve waved at him walking down the street so we know he’s still around. We’re just so excited to see all our customers really, and to pull that first pint.”

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Njie worries that some of the younger clientele might get quite carried away. “People haven’t been out for so long, some of them are going to forget their limits. I just hope it stays safe, but I do think people will go a lot crazier than normal.”

While those pubs fortunate enough to have gardens to serve customers are looking forward to a return to something approaching normality on Monday, hundreds of others that do not have outdoor space are frustrated at having to wait until 17 May to welcome people inside.

The British Beer and Pub Association expects only about 40% of pubs in England to reopen on Monday. The trade body reckons about 15m pints will be sold next week, which is just a quarter of normal April trading.

Dawn Hopkins, who runs Norwich’s Rose Inn and is vice-chair of the Campaign for Pubs, says her pub has only a small garden that could fit just six people socially distanced. “So I decided there wasn’t much point opening, and I know that there are a lot of other pubs in our sort of situation. We will just have to wait even longer. It has been an incredibly difficult, frustrating, anxious and at times a heartbreaking year for us, and for publicans across the country.”

Fairburn agrees, and says the last few months have been the most difficult of her life. “People think we’ve had so much time off, but it’s not been time off,” she says. “It’s been time stressing about money. It’s been frankly awful, but you’ve got to stay positive. There are too many people down, it’s our role to gee people up. It’s our role to listen to the people coming in; they don’t need to know our problems, we are here to listen to them.”



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